Why are you terrified?
This question, offered by Jesus in the middle of a storm, is rhetorical but important. If we separated our mind from our emotions, and live a very truncated life, we could rationally explain why it’s smart to be scared in a storm. But we also could argue that if we’re still alive, we have made it so far and through all the storms of our lives. So why are we still terrified in the midst of the storms of our lives?
We could answer that question in many different ways. Some of us live waiting for the next shoe to drop. Some of us live in a fantasy world, never expecting difficulties or suffering. Some of us live such isolated lives, that when we do experience difficulties, we blame others for the inconvenience. But Jesus offers us a totally different way of looking at suffering, inconvenience and difficulty.
Jesus assumes that living a life of love includes pains, sacrifices and losses — as well as healings, comforts and peace. Jesus’ expectation is that we live in the real world, not in a fantasy world. Only those of us who live in comfort have the luxury of pretending that life is different than it really is. We can cushion ourselves with extra money and possessions so that we escape some of the difficulties of life. But when the storms hit, we have a little practice at weathering the storm. That is why Jesus clearly states that the poor will have quicker access to heaven than the rich.
We can easily say we believe in Jesus when life is going the way we expect it. But do we have faith in Jesus and God’s faithfulness in the midst of stormy and difficult times? How can we practice weathering the storms of life? How do we get into the practice of trusting Jesus as the storm hits?
Voluntarily emptying ourselves and allowing some of the rough edges of life to touch us can help us build a pattern of living in reality. Choosing to be in company with those who are different makes us face some of the differences in life that may cause us discomfort. Keeping fewer of our excess possessions can help us feel some emptiness. Suffering and discomfort is not good in itself, but it does demand that we depend on others rather than trying to go it alone. How many of us live in the fantasy world that has as its goal to be totally self-sufficient? Living that way does not help us to weather the storms. That is why we are so afraid.
Out of whose love do we exist? What is the source of this marvelous creation in which we live? These rhetorical questions are asked of Job. These sorts of questions help us rearrange our world so that we put things and people in their right priority. Is the Earth given to us as our possession to use as we will, or is it a gift given to us for the common good and for generations to come? We hear more and more that for our earth to continue to be a gift we must alter how we live. Is our life a gift to use for our own purpose, or is our life a gift to be lived for the common good and for the future of God’s creation? We are called as a community to worship God, who is the source of our lives, and to encourage and support those who are our brothers and sisters. Living in community causes us to rub against the rougher parts of life in ourselves and others.
Let us be courageous as we hear from St. Paul this weekend. Let us have the courage to live real lives, willing to voluntarily empty ourselves, and willing to build the habits of riding the storm out with faith and joy.